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Gulf Slowdown Casts Shadow over Lebanon Economy | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Chadi Thoumas quit his job in the United Arab Emirates when his employer decided to slash his salary by more than two thirds.

A victim of a sharp slowdown in Dubai’s economy, he is now home in Beirut, one of an unknown number of Lebanese whose loss of lucrative Gulf employment has cast a shadow over Lebanon’s economic outlook.

Thoumas, 32, moved to Dubai in 2007, when a Lebanese economy struggling to recover from war with Israel was pitched into more uncertainty by a paralysing political crisis.

“Back then, Dubai was the financial and economic promised land,” said Thoumas, who worked in supply management. He bought a one-way ticket home. “The day I was leaving, there were three other Lebanese guys who’d packed their furniture,” he said.

There are no official statistics on how many Lebanese are employed in the Gulf or how many have lost jobs. Economists estimate that hundreds of thousands have been working in countries including the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Their transfers home contribute to annual remittances that account for around a fifth of Lebanon’s economy.

“We have always assumed, since the crisis began, that the slowing down of economic activity in the Gulf will have some negative implications on incomes and transfers of Lebanese in the region,” Finance Minister Mohammad Chatah said.

“The extent of that is still uncertain,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“We don’t have any figures really … We don’t believe we are going to see a dramatic impact, but that’s something we are watching.”

For a state with one of the heftiest debt burdens in the world, a major concern is the possible impact on the flow of remittances deposited in Lebanese banks. The government depends on the banking sector to finance a deficit which this year is seen at around 12 percent of gross domestic product.

The International Monetary Fund has forecast a 10 percent increase in Lebanese bank deposits this year, less than a 15 percent rise in 2008 but still enough to meet public and private sector financing needs, policymakers say.

Chatah said the impact of lay-offs in the Gulf had so far been softened by Lebanese finding other jobs. “They’ve transferred elsewhere in the Gulf, so they still provide income support to families and a stream of remittances,” he said.


But in Beirut, there are signs that a growing number of Lebanese expatriates are looking to come home.

“There are a large number of people who are in Dubai who want to come back because they know they will be fired or because their salaries have been cut,” said Carole Contavelis of Beirut-based human resources company Hunter International.

Job adverts that had previously drawn 100 applicants are now attracting 300, she said. Applicants are mainly interested in the financial and construction sectors. “Architects used to want a (monthly) salary of $5,000 to come back to Lebanon. Now they are ready to take $3,000,” she said.

One Lebanese architect who moved to Dubai in 2007 said he had shifted jobs three times in the last four months. He is still in Dubai, but fears he could be out of work at any moment.

“Maybe next week they will call me and tell me: ‘Sorry, we lost a big job, or Sheikh X has told us to hold everything,'” said the 28-year old, who declined to be named to avoid antagonising his current employer. “It’s insecure. You cannot bargain. They tell you: ‘There are a thousand people waiting to fill your shoes’,” he said by telephone from Dubai. “At the beginning, they used to kiss my arse.”

The UAE central bank this week warned that the country’s economy could post low growth or even contract this year. The oil exporter has suffered from a slump in energy prices and a property sector downturn.

“The image to everyone who came here was like you were standing at the doors of opportunity. Then you realise you’re sitting at a gambling table,” said a 29-year old interior designer, who declined to be identified because he did not want to alert creditors in Dubai of his departure plans.

He said he would return to Beirut within days, hoping to find a job in an economy that is forecast to grow by 3-4 percent in 2009. “Whoever leaves sooner will be better off. You want your CV to be at the top of the pile,” he said.

But while the outlook for Lebanon’s economy, which grew by more than 8 percent in 2008, is less bleak than the Gulf, growth forecasts for this year have been cut. Head hunter Contavelis questioned whether all the returnees would find work.